Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1998 to 2004. He is Lamont University Professor at Harvard.

“When, early in 2001, President Bush abruptly abandoned the environmental agreement arrived at in Kyoto (the so-called Kyoto Protocol), a CNN/Time opinion poll indicated that a large majority of the American public took a very different view from the President. Yet there was hardly any serious attempt by the US government to take note of public opinion in the making of policy, or to draw citizens into discussion . . . we must recognise . . . that blocking opportunities for informed participation is itself a significant loss of freedom, and that this is already occurring. Something has failed to be sustained – right now.”

On the Darwinian View of Progress

Amartya Sen, 5 November 1992

It is now a century and a third, almost exactly, since the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In this period the view of evolutionary progress introduced by Darwin has radically altered the way we think about ourselves and the world in which we live. There are very few events in the history of ideas that can be compared in terms of power, reach and impact with the emergence of the Darwinian analysis of progress through evolution. There are, however, several distinct components in the Darwinian understanding of evolutionary progress, and it is possible that the profundity of some of the elements may make us less conscious of the dubious nature of others. In particular, Darwin’s general idea of progress – on which his notion of evolutionary progress is dependent – can have the effect of misdirecting our attention, in ways that are crucial in the contemporary world.’

Famine and Fraternity

Amartya Sen, 3 July 1986

The death of somebody one loves is unbearable not only because of its devastating impact on one’s life, but also because it is excruciatingly difficult for one to accept the victim’s own loss of everything he or she had. If one feels lacerated and burnt, this partly reflects the primitive agony of seeing the victim’s incomparable tragedy. The ‘self-regarding’ element in one’s grief at the death of a loved person is thus supplemented by an ‘other-regarding’ element concerning that loved person, even though the two elements may be extremely hard to disentangle.

How can you hide a book that makes a substantial contribution to economic theory? Well, you can call it Palanpur, which is the name of a tiny Indian village. (I look forward to picking up my economic theory in the future from books with such titles as Eynsham and Leamington Spa.) But, in fact, the title is no mystery. This book, which contributes so much to economic theory, is also about the remote Indian village called Palanpur. The village, we learn from the authors, ‘lies in the Moradabad District of West UP, 13 kilometres north of the town Chandausi, at the point 78°46′E 28°33′N’ – a description that is precise enough to satisfy most readers (especially, I take it, the ones who know where Chandausi is).–

Bendy Rulers: Amartya Sen

Glen Newey, 28 January 2010

At some time in the past the idea took hold that social justice was all about the state’s hoovering up resources and then blowing them at needy or deserving recipients. Some of these...

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Freer than others

Bernard Williams, 18 November 1993

Every modern state and every modern political philosophy believes in equality of something. As Amartya Sen points out in this book, even libertarians, who think that there should be no...

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What’s wrong with poverty

John Broome, 19 May 1988

Welfare economics is concerned with what economic arrangements we should have, and what governments should do in economic matters. It is about right and good in economics. So it is a branch of...

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Did we pass?

Robert Cassen, 23 May 1985

According to legend, when Paul Samuel-son left the room after his PhD oral, one of the reputed economists examining him turned to the others and asked: ‘Did we pass?’ A reviewer...

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Human Welfare

Paul Seabright, 18 August 1983

‘It’s pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness: poverty and wealth have both failed,’ says Kin Hubbard’s creation Abe Martin. Since the pursuit of ‘the greatest...

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Enough to eat

Vijay Joshi, 19 November 1981

In our hearts, most of us are Malthusians. We associate mass starvation with too many people chasing too little food. There are too many people because they reproduce themselves too fast, in...

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